This Little Miggy Stayed Home: The Road to Hell

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Road to Hell paved with good intentions.  

Is that what they say?  Seems to fit me as of late.  Here's my problem.  

Somewhere along the way I picked up the idea that when someone is really down and out and struggling with a difficult situation what they don't like to be told is I know how you feel. Because how can you really know how someone else feels right?  There are very few situations where we can really say I know how you feel and mean it.  It seems to me that in general people don't like being told that unless you really know.  It invalidates their problem or minimizes the seriousness because, yeah I was there once biggie.  So that's something I try to avoid--fake empathy and invalidation.     

Therefore in an effort to acknowledge and validate others, I find myself saying things like Wow.  I've never been through that.  I guess I've been really lucky.  It seems like that would be really hard and I don't know how you handle that.  

In my head it sounds like this:  You're really strong.  For whatever reason that hasn't been my trial and I admire you for having the strength to endure this because that would be really hard. 
However, I'm afraid it sounds like this:  Geeze I must just be really blessed and awesome not to have gone through something like that.  I don't want to rub it in your face, but yeah, that sucks.  

I know that a lot of people will tell you just to listen.  People don't want you to fix their problems.  I get that.  But I feel like you should still be able to say SOMETHING besides yeah, um hm...yeah.  I'm not trying to fix anyones problems, but I should be able to say something that validates their problems right?  Maybe not?  

This is one of those things where I feel like I skipped the chapter in Basic Skills of Savvy Conversation that gets handed out to the general human population.  Any idears?  {I can only imagine some of my friends thinking... ahhhh, so this is why she's like that...}   


  1. I usually say something like, "I can't even imagine what that's like," and then offer help. You're right though. Even if someone has been through something similar, no one has the exact problem or same ability to deal with it. Even someone who has had a child with autism, to use my case, could be well-off and able to give their child the best, and another be a single mother, or have an illness of their own, or have a family who is unsupportive. One of the biggest stressors to me is having limited resources in dealing with the problem.
    In cases where I am talking to another mom of a special-needs kid, I usually say, "I know something/a little of what you're going through," in reference to a specific issue, not the whole thing.
    Good post.

  2. Goodness, it feels as though you've listened in on some of the conversations I've had with myself! I'm TERRIBLE at the delicate balance that goes into relating with others. At times, it feels that the only reaction I can have is one of sympathy {which always feels too close to pity, really} or self disclosure-- telling about my own experiences in order to build a feeling of camaraderie. But as you say, that can come off as self absorbed. I could second guess myself all day, but what I've tried to do is just be as honest and empathetic as I can, and hope that my good intentions make up for my significant skill deficiencies.

    Perfect picture. It made me laugh. :)

  3. it's so interesting that you wrote about this, i'm curious about the underlying story that lead you to write this. i want to chat about it, so call me. do you still have my number????

  4. I also usually say---"wow, it must be rough---I can't even imagine what its like...." "You are a stronger person than me---I don't know if I could have handled it as well as you," etc., etc.

    I hate it when people say that they know how you feel, looking all smug and such....

  5. It's funny that I happen to read a book called, "Common Sense Etiquette, " well, I skimmed it over. What is said about validating other people is listening intently, not interrupting, and actually giving a well thought answer is considered good manners. I feel like when people just nod and look upset with me I feel like they care.

  6. In my head it sounds like this..."______________"

    If that is how it sounds in your head that is what should actually say...because it is beautiful and what I wish people would say to me more often. (I can only guess that that is what they mean)

    There is something strange and disconcerting to me about being told by another "I couldn't handle that or be as strong as you..." It makes me feel isolated. What makes me stronger than you?? I want people to know that they would probably react the same way as I--they would be surprised at themselves (AND they haven't seen the ugly, ugly side. The swollen eyes, snot running down your face, endless tears, moaning side). I want to say YOU ARE STRONG, and I AM WEAK and we have both sides and for some damn reason this is one of my trials.

    BUT...having said that. I still don't know how to relate completely and say "the right things" to people who are struggling -- even with the very same hell on earth as losing a child. It's hard--even if you've been there. Or are there. Because in the end you are the only one to own the pain.

    Boy, I'm rambling. Love that you think about and share these things. Sorry if none of this made sense.

  7. You said it sister. I think you have your etiquette responses down pat. You had one of the more supportive notes for me as of late. You should have seen some of the stuff people wrote..... Holy cow. What idiots!